And I’ve been lookin low,
Lookin for My Shanghai Lil.”
(From Shanghai Lil, 1933. Lyrics by Al Dubin;
Music by Harry Warren)
“Thar” she was, high in the rafters of the old ship chandlery in Mornington (Australia). She was sleek and trim, and had just the right patina for her age. She was a vintage VJ (Vaucluse Junior) sailboat, built in the 1940s on the bayside of the Peninsula. In an instant, I knew that had I had found the perfect Christmas present for my sailor husband.
We brought the boat home to Flinders, and decided that she was just too old and special to sail the waters of Westernport Bay. Instead, she became the answer to the decorating dilemma in our Ming Dynasty beach house. The main room (lounge room in Aussie parlance) had 12-foot ceilings, and needed something to decorate and fill that space. That something was the VJ. We proudly hoisted her to her new berth, hanging from the ceiling, above us in the living room.
She was christened “Shanghai Lil” after the Busby Berkeley song and dance routine in the 1933 film, Footlight Parade. Ruby Keeler played an entertainer in a Shanghai speakeasy who charms James Cagney. Our “Lil” certainly charmed us, and for five years she was the star feature of our Flinders interior. When it came time to say “adieu” to “Lil”, we found her another safe port of call – this time, as a focal point in a Melbourne restaurant.